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7 posts from December 19, 2013

December 19, 2013

Miami-Dade names Emilio Estefan goodwill ambassador


Pssst! Are you a celebrity? Want to be the face of local government? For four years? As an unpaid "special ambassador"?

Miami-Dade County wants you.

Actually, right now, it wants Emilio Estefan.

County commissioners nominated the entrepreneur, philanthropist and music producer Tuesday to become Miami-Dade's special ambassador -- a symbolic position with no real power.

The only expectations: to attend certain meetings and social functions, provide occasional reports to commissioners and share information about the county. (Only good things, presumably.)

"By creating a formal representative for the County's cultural and trade aspirations, we can continue to develop our community as the nexus between music, art, culture, and trade," Commissioner Jean Monestime said in a statement. He spearheaded the ambassador effort with Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.

Estefan is married to singer Gloria Estefan. He commented in the statement released by Monestime's office.

"I have always been proud to support efforts that bring prosperity and opportunity to Miami and hopefully this position will allow me, and those who may follow after, to help contribute to the promotion and growth of our community," Estefan said.

Survey: Libraries are popular in Miami-Dade. A tax hike to fund them? Less so


Miami-Dade County residents truly love their libraries, but they don’t necessarily want to pay more taxes to fund them.

Those are the findings of a new poll conducted on behalf of county government, which is trying to find ways to save the public library system from deep budget cuts. Ninety-five percent of respondents who use the library and 72 percent of non-users said libraries add to their quality of life. Eighty-three percent of respondents disagreed with a statement calling libraries “outmoded, obsolete and no longer necessary.”

Yet support for increasing the property-tax rate — likely the only way to grow the libraries or even keep them intact — was inconsistent, according to the survey by Behavioral Science Research, a Coral Gables-based firm.

Forty-four percent of respondents said they would be OK with a tax-rate hike, with 20 percent undecided.

Robert Ladner, the president of Behavioral Science Research, called the support “soft.”

“It is a very vulnerable area,” he said this week to Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s task force examining the libraries’ future.

More here.

Safety advocates slam bill to raise highway speed limit

Raising the speed limit even five miles on rural stretches of Florida’s roads could lead to more fatalities and injuries, according to a law enforcement official, consumer group spokesman and safety council official, who held a press conference Thursday to oppose a bill that would increase limits in certain areas.

“If this law passes and 100 more people die in Florida as a result of a higher speed limits, that would not surprise me,” said John Ulczycki, vice president of strategic initiatives for the National Safety Council.

Ulczycki was joined by Walter Dartland, executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast, and Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel, who all want to block SB 392, which was proposed by Senators Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth and Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg.

The legislation, said Clemens, allows engineers at the Florida Department of Transportation to evaluate highways in rural areas, “basically where there are no population centers of more than 5,000 people,” to determine whether the speed limit could be increased by five miles per hour.

The proposed law, for instance could raise the speed limit from 70 to 75 miles per hour on interstates and other limited access highways. The measure, said Clemens, “bases speed limits on science rather than emotion. ... Traffic fatalities have reduced markedly since we did away with the national speed limit in the 90s.”

Clemens and Brandes say the law would better reflect the speed that motorists actually drive and that traveling with traffic is safer for motorists, while opponents say raising the speed limit would just cause motorists to drive faster.

Continue reading "Safety advocates slam bill to raise highway speed limit" »

Florida and Texas were responsible for majority of the 40 executions in 2013

From the Death Penalty Information Center:

With 39 executions in 2013, this year marks only the second time in nearly two decades that the United States executed less than 40 people, according to a report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). One of the reasons for fewer executions in 2013 was states' inability to obtain lethal injection drugs. 

Executions declined about 10% compared to 2012 - from 43 last year to 39 this year - and by 60% since 1999.  There were 79 new death sentences in 2013, about the same as last year (77), which was the lowest number since 1973.  Death sentences have declined by 75% from 1996, when there were 315.

"Twenty years ago, use of the death penalty was increasing.  Now it is declining by almost every measure," said Richard Dieter, DPIC's Executive Director and the author of the report. "The recurrent problems of the death penalty have made its application rare, isolated, and often delayed for decades.  More states will likely reconsider the wisdom of retaining this expensive and ineffectual practice."

Read DPIC's "The Death Penalty in 2013: Year End Report" at http://deathpenaltyinfo.org/documents/YearEnd2013.pdf.

Continue reading "Florida and Texas were responsible for majority of the 40 executions in 2013" »

Democrats to Gov. Rick Scott: Call off latest budget slashing at Department of Children and Families

By Carol Marbin Miller

With less than a year to go before voters choose the state’s next governor, Florida Democrats are tipping their hand on an issue they think could move the needle in the election: the failures of the state’s child welfare system.

The leader of the Democratic Caucus in the state House of Representative, Perry Thurston of Fort Lauderdale, delivered a letter to Gov. Rick Scott Thursday morning blasting the governor for proposing cuts to the budget of the agency that has failed to prevent the deaths of scores of children whose families had been on the state’s radar because of prior complaints. Scott is seeking re-election, but faces unfavorable poll numbers.

“In view of your abject failure to protect these vulnerable children, I plead with you to avoid in your forthcoming budget recommendations any additional spending cuts to your Department of Children & Families,” Thurston wrote. “When you have failed to protect Florida’s most innocent residents, it would be abhorrent to ask the agency you have tasked with their protection to make budget cuts.”

The shortcomings at DCF first came to light this past summer, when the Miami Herald reported on the deaths of four children DCF had previously investigated. Amid a loud outcry from children’s advocates and community leaders, then-DCF Secretary David Wilkins resigned.

But the deaths continued. At the urging of interim Secretary Esther Jacobo, who had headed the agency’s Miami outpost before being tapped for the job, a team of consultants from Seattle-based Casey Family Programs reviewed 40 child death cases from this year.

More here.

Florida Supreme Court approves new execution drug

From the Associated Press: 

The Florida Supreme Court is giving its approval for the state's new lethal injection procedure and the execution of a man who killed a prison guard while on death row can proceed.

The court ruled Thursday that a new drug used to render condemned prisoners unconscious works effectively.

Askari Abdullah Muhammad, formerly known as Thomas Knight, was scheduled for execution Dec. 3. The court delayed the execution and ordered hearings on a claim that the sedative midazolam hydrochloride doesn't prevent pain after being administered.

The 62-year-old Knight has been on death row for nearly 40 years. He was convicted of fatally stabbing Corrections Officer Richard Burke with the sharpened end of a spoon in 1980.

Knight was originally condemned for the 1974 murders of Sidney and Lillian Gans of Miami Beach. 

Nativity scene, Festivus pole and atheists ... but no Satanist display for the Capitol


Capitol holiday displaysReligious holiday symbols are nothing new to Florida's Capitol; Christmas trees and a menorah during Hanukkah are tradition.

But one overtly Christian display has launched a firestorm of free speech activity this year. The Florida Prayer Network erected a Nativity scene in the rotunda on Dec. 2. A second group pledged to add a tribute to the Three Wise Men at a later date.

Probably anticipating complaints of religious favoritism, the state's Department of Management Services that oversees public buildings issued a notice to media saying the religious display was approved because it met guidelines for use of state property and was free speech protected by the First Amendment. By doing so, the state essentially opened the floodgates for other religious or anti-religion displays.

So far, DMS has approved posters from two atheist groups, a "Happy Winter Solstice" banner from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and a Festivus pole by an atheist using the holiday made popular in a "Seinfeld" episode to push for separation of church and state.

There is also the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Pastafarians, who have fake noodles in a chair. The religion was created to highlight opposition to the "intelligent design" theory some Christians have pushed in public schools. (Full photo gallery on The Buzz.)

So far, only one group's winter display has been denied: the Satanists' proposed poster was deemed "grossly offensive" by DMS.

Here is more from the News Service of Florida about the Santanists being turned down and the other Capitol displays:

Continue reading "Nativity scene, Festivus pole and atheists ... but no Satanist display for the Capitol" »